The ASSN, its members and affiliates are involved in extensive research and publication on the Security Sector Governance in Africa and elsewhere.


Hybrid Security Governance in Africa: Implications for State-building

The African Security Sector Network (ASSN) signed a Memorandum of Grant Conditions in 2014 with the International Development and Research Centre of Canada (IDRC) for the execution of a three-year research project. The project is titled “Hybrid Security Governance in Africa: Implications for State-building” and covers six African countries: Cote d’Ivoire, Liberia, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Somaliland and South Africa.


The grant application submitted by the ASSN to IDRC in support of the project was premised on the realization that Security Sector Reform (SSR) processes are more often than not focused on structural and formal institutional arrangements of the state, specifically on tangible policy goals such as better design and management of security budgets, training and professionalization of security institutions, reforms of the police and courts , improving mechanisms of parliamentary accountability, the provision of alternative livelihoods for ex-combatants, and so on. They have scarcely begun to touch upon the deep politics of reform or to draw in any systematic way upon the critical literatures on the state, hybrid political orders [HPOs] and security. References to the ‘informal’ security and justice sector have become a standard fixture in the global SSR and ‘state-building’ toolkit, but this has remained largely at the level of rhetoric, with little real understanding of how this sector actually functions, of the complex character of the intersections between formal and informal institutions, or the implications (importantly) for reform efforts that aim to build Weberian ideal-type institutions. Yet, in reality, the Security Sector in Africa is an intricate fusion of both formal and customary/traditional actors and institutions.

The term ‘hybridity’ is employed in this context to denote the complex amalgam of statutory and non-statutory actors and institutions typically at play in the African security sector, though in this project the main thrust of the concept is to illuminate the character and functioning of security systems in countries emerging from conflict, where customary, clan and non-formal institutions tend to be widely implicated in delivery of security, and where there is a particular need to understand the nature of these intersections of formality and informality if state – and peacebuilding initiatives are to achieve any traction and sustainability. The principal objective of the research is to rethink prevailing conceptions of ‘security governance’ in Africa, which are by and large built around the notion of a ‘state’ characterized by (and functioning in line with) legal-rational norms and institutions. It is this conception which in turn informs current SSR exercises on the continent.

The project argues that such notions of ‘governance’ are deceptively simple as well as misleading in the African context, where –as is already well recognized in the sociological literature–many political and social transactions occur in contexts defined as much by informal as by formal norms and systems, and where a wide array of informal institutions operate alongside or within nominally formal political structures. The project hopes to offer–based on grounded research– a radically different (but also much more comprehensive and realistic) perspective on African security governance. Its central thesis is that, in the African context, security sectors are often constituted and driven by multilevel structures and networks that span the conventional state / non-state divide; states and informal networks should thus be seen not as functionally distinct or mutually exclusive, but rather as embedded in dynamic and shifting relations of cooperation and competition, depending on the context. The research will explore and identify those informal networks, actors and processes which, alongside legally established structures, influence decision-making as well as policy implementation in the security sector. Specifically, the project is set to achieve five distinct and yet interrelated objectives:

– The first is to identify and analyse the networks and processes that span the divide between ‘formality’ and ‘informality’, and, as a result, provide a better and more realistic understanding of decision-making processes and power distribution in the African security sector.

– The second is to clarify the role of non-state / non-formal / customary security institutions (community security organs, militias, vigilante groups, etc), and the interactions and interface between these and the formal security institutions of the state. Hybrid security orders are characterized by the existence of multiple non-state providers of security, as the state shares ‘authority, legitimacy, and capacity’ with other actors, networks and institutions that transcend the formal/informal divide. Such a phenomenon requires analysts to gain empirically grounded knowledge. It also has undoubted policy implications: if the typical African security sector is in reality hybrid (and hence far removed from the ideal-typic conceptual understandings underlying current SSR and SSG initiatives), this would have significant implications for the way we understand and approach reform and governance of the security sector.

– A third purpose is to better understand the ‘real economy’ of security provisioning in hybrid systems, and the patterns of inclusion and exclusion associated with such systems (in particular the role of gender and sexual orientation, where the notion of ‘double jeopardy’ may well apply). At a broader level, investigators will use the lens of social inclusion to begin to distinguish those HPOs that provide for workable public authority from HPOs that merely reinforce ‘elite bargains’, ‘coalitions’ or ‘pacts’, or only seek the capacity to contain violence and to secure the property, economic interests, and opportunities of pact members (recognizing at the same time that many HPOs may be inclusive in certain respects but also remain ‘limited access orders’ in many other respects).

– Fourthly, the project seeks to investigate whether the concept of ‘hybridity’ cannot be more than an analytical tool (to explain functions and dysfunctions in African security systems) and become a guide to action. We will try to establish if ‘hybridity’ in its broadest sense can furnish a strategy for building effective security systems, and the extent to which these ‘crossover’ networks (or the values motivating them) can be mobilized (or not) as checks and balances to inform and reinforce African security governance.

– Finally, the project will strive to contribute to strengthening the (notoriously weak) research and evidence base of SSR, and addressing the many ‘research gaps’ in the discipline, at the same time building the research capacity of civil society groups and research institutions involved in the project, and thereby their ability to engage issues of security sector reform and governance in their respective countries.

Case Studies/Project Countries Field research are being conducted in the following six African countries: Cote d’Ivoire, Liberia, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Somaliland and South Africa. However, while some of these are case studies that seek to explore the dialectics of hybridity in national security sectors, others are thematic in nature, and seek to analyse particular facets (and impacts) of hybridity in those contexts (informal policing in Nigeria, gender and policing in Liberia and Sierra Leone, and sexual rights and citizenship in South Africa).


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PASA Research Program

In 2012, ASSN staff at the African Union were involved in the planning of a research entitled “Peace and Security in Africa” (PASA) carried out by the Department of Peace and Conflict Research at Uppsala University (DPCR) in cooperation with the African Centre for the Constructive Resolution of Disputes (ACCORD) and the Swedish consultancy company Indevelop. The PASA project is relevant to the AU SSR as it aimed to increase the capacity of regional organizations in Sub-Saharan Africa to prevent, manage and resolve armed conflicts on the continent. The subject focus of the programme was on theoretical and practical knowledge about peace and security in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Strengthening Institutional Capacities to Mainstream Gender and Promote Women’s Participation in Security Sector Reform Processes in Africa

This project conducted a baseline study of security sector institutions in Guinea, Cote d’Ivoire, Sierra Leone and South Sudan with support from DFID in 2011/12. The research revealed that gender issues remain marginal to mainstream negotiations, discourse and programmes on SSR, even in countries like Sierra Leone with a long history of women’s activism and SSR work. This further accentuated the fact that in terms of policy, if not conceptually, ‘women, peace and security’ and ‘SSR’ continue to evolve on parallel tracks despite their obvious interconnections. All the studies suggested that there is as yet little understanding of what gender mainstreaming in SSR really entails, beyond mere inclusion (recruitment) of women in security institutions, development of ‘gender policies’, insertion of the words ‘gender’ and/or ‘women’ into existing policy documents, and so on.

Security Sector Reform Provisions in Peace Agreements 

This project was commissioned by DFID and conducted by the ASSN to review and analyse the inclusion of SSR provisions in peace agreements and the monitoring of their implementation as well as outline lessons learned from previous agreements and provide recommendations on the inclusion of SSR in peace agreements and the monitoring of their implementation.

The project focused on a number of peace agreements drawn from eight countries in Africa (Mozambique, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Sudan, Burundi, the Democratic republic of Congo, Sierra Leone and Liberia) two from Central America (El Salvador and Guatemala) and one from Asia (Timor-Leste), supplemented with evidence from farther afield as necessary.  The approach combined comparative studies from past agreements, on the one hand, and contemporary instances of transition from conflict, on the other. The publication on Sector Reform Provisions in Peace Agreements is available here

Research on West and Southern African Parliaments

In 2007-2008, ASSN Regional Hubs for West and Southern Africa (African Security Dialogue and Research – ASDR) and (Southern African Defence and Security Management Network – SADSEM) respectively conducted a ‘Feasibility and Needs Assessment Study’ of nine ECOWAS and ten SADSEM Parliamentary Defence and Security Committees under contract to DCAF.


The ASSN, its members and affiliates are also involved in extensive research and publication on the Security Sector in Africa and elsewhere. The ASSN network’s publications include Security Sector Reform Provisions in Peace Agreements (University of Birmingham Press, 2009), Changing Intelligence Dynamics in Africa (University of Birmingham Press, 2009) and La Reforme des Systèmes de Sécurité et de Justice en Afrique Francophone (OIF, 2009). ASSN members have also contributed to a series of DCAF publications relating to SSR in Africa: Les Défis de la Gouvernance du Secteur de la Sécurité en Afrique de l’Ouest; Gouvernance du Secteur de la Sécurité en Afrique de l’Ouest : Les Défis à Relever; Parliamentary Oversight of the Security Sector in West Africa: Opportunities and Challenges; Security Sector Transformation in Africa (Lit. Verlag 2010); Security Sector Governance in Francophone West Africa: Realities and Opportunities (Lit. Verlag 2011); and the ECOWAS-DCAF Guide to Parliamentary Oversight mentioned above.

Note that network affiliates and individual members of the ASSN may (and do) have areas of work and professional expertise that extend well beyond this narrative.